NFC West: 2013 Week 12 Upon Further Review NFC

Upon Further Review: 49ers Week 12

November, 26, 2013
LANDOVER, MD. -- A review of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 27-6 win at Washington on Monday night:

Kaepernick leads: The 49ers' offense was the key in this win, ending a two-game losing streak. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the offense had sagged the past two weeks. But he led a strong passing attack. Kaepernick completed 6 of 15 passes of 15 yards or longer against the Redskins. Last week in New Orleans, the 49ers' longest play was 17 yards. Niners coach Jim Harbaugh credited Kaepernick's leadership during the week. He said Kaepernick had a “perfect mix” of focus and looseness and it carried into the game.

Help on the way: The 49ers' passing game was finally more than Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. Mario Manningham, in his third game of the season, had four catches for 45 yards. He was targeted early in the game, and that enabled Boldin and Davis to break loose for three touchdowns. And more help is on the way. Top receiver Michael Crabtree, who tore his Achilles in May, will be activated Tuesday and Harbaugh said he anticipates he will play Sunday against St. Louis. He might not be 100 percent right away, but having a receiving group of Boldin, Davis, Manningham and Crabtree will only make Kaepernick better.

Aldon Smith is back: The star pass-rusher made a huge impact Monday night. Smith had two sacks and looked like his normal self for the first time since returning from substance abuse treatment. This was his third game back since missing five games. He had had one tackle the past two games. Last week, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Smith was still getting acclimated. Monday night, he looked comfortable and he was active. Having a dominant Smith will be huge for this defense down the stretch.

James sparks return game: Harbaugh raved about LaMichael James' performance Monday night. James, a second-round pick in 2012, looked good on returns the past two games after taking over for the since-released Kyle Williams. Monday night, James made a huge impact. He had a 40-yard punt return in the third quarter. It was the 49ers' longest punt return in nearly two seasons. Harbaugh said it was a nice reminder to everyone that the 49ers have a return game. James runs with a purpose and with more aggression than Williams ever did.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 12

November, 25, 2013
ST. LOUIS -- A review of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams' 42-21 win against the Chicago Bears:

[+] EnlargeZac Stacy
Michael Thomas/Getty ImagesZac Stacy rushed for 87 yards and a score as the Rams rushed for a total of 258 yards.
Staying alive: The win moved the Rams to 5-6 on the season and though they are still on the outskirts of the playoff race, they managed to stay in the picture by knocking off a team that's in front of them in the mix.

With five games to play, the margin for error is small -- the Rams probably can't afford to lose another game to have a real shot at the playoffs -- but they now have consecutive impressive wins against playoff contenders in Indianapolis and Chicago. Heading into Monday night's game between San Francisco and Washington, the Rams sit two games behind 7-4 Arizona for what would be the final wild-card spot.

St. Louis' next two games come against the Niners and Cardinals, two teams ahead of them not only in the NFC West but in the NFC wild-card picture as well.

Battle of the Longs: Much was made of the meeting of Rams defensive end Chris Long and his brother Kyle, the Bears' starting right guard, last week. In a rare battle between brothers where they might actually cross paths on the field, there wasn't much to report with one notable exception.

Following an incomplete pass by Bears quarterback Josh McCown in the first half, Kyle Long got tangled up with defensive end William Hayes. The pair continued to battle after the play and Long actually appeared to throw a couple of kicks in Hayes' direction. Chris Long quickly ran in from the sideline to pry his brother out of the mix and away from his close friend Hayes.

It was a difficult situation for Chris Long, but he said he has long been accustomed to pulling his brother out of scrums.

Run game rolling: Immediate following the Rams' blowout loss to San Francisco in Week 4, coach Jeff Fisher made it clear the time had come for a philosophical shift for the offense. The idea was to develop some semblance of a reliable rushing attack with rookie Zac Stacy leading the charge.

After a promising start, the Rams' run game has gone to another level in the past four weeks. Capped by Sunday's 258 rushing yards, the Rams have run for 758 yards with six touchdowns on an average of 5.61 yards per carry. That average is the best in the league during that time frame. Without starting quarterback Sam Bradford, the run game's emergence has eased the burden on backup Kellen Clemens considerably.

Secondary struggles: The Rams' secondary hasn't exactly been able to lock down opposing passing games this season, but it was even tougher sledding Sunday against the Bears. The team placed cornerback Cortland Finnegan on injured reserve with an eye injury on Saturday and Trumaine Johnson, his replacement, suffered a head injury during the game. That left the Rams short at cornerback, and McCown threw for 352 yards and two touchdowns to keep Chicago in the game.

Pending Johnson's status moving forward, the Rams have only rookie Brandon McGee, converted safety Rodney McLeod and unproven Quinton Pointer behind starter Janoris Jenkins on the outside.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 12

November, 25, 2013
TEMPE, Ariz. -- A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals’ 40-11 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

About time: It’s become a running joke around the Cardinals: Karlos Dansby couldn’t catch interceptions. That changed Sunday. He intercepted Colts quarterback Andrew Luck midway through the second quarter and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.

“I put a lot of work in,” Dansby said. “I missed a few early in the season. When everything is on the line, I came through today. [Luck] had a lot of pressure on him. He threw the ball up and I ran through it.”

Even Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who razzed Dansby as much as anyone, was thrilled for Dansby.

“I thought he was going to get another one,” Arians said. “That was a huge one, a huge one, big momentum swing.”

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
Norm Hall/Getty ImagesLarry Fitzgerald surpassed the 11,000-yard receiving mark for his career in Sunday's win.
Another record: Larry Fitzgerald became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 11,000 receiving yards. He’s 30 years, 85 days -- 137 days younger than Randy Moss, who he passed on the list.

“I really don’t pay all that much attention to it in the now,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m happy. It’s a great accomplishment, but Jerry Rice had 21,000 yards receiving. That’s the benchmark.”

It’s the second milestone Fitzgerald has hit this season. He became the youngest NFL player to reach 800 receptions.

Fast improvement: A week after running for 14 yards, the Cardinals responded with 120 yards on the ground. It wasn’t a dominant performance, but it provided the kind of balance that Arizona has been seeking. Rashard Mendenhall had 54 yards on 13 carries and rookie Andre Ellington had 50 yards on 10 carries.

Both players had big runs, and Mendenhall showed speed not seen since he first joined the Cardinals.

“Rashard looked like himself,” Arians said. “He looked healthy like he did back in training camp. I was really glad to see that, and no better time. I thought he had, by far, his best game, both those backs.”

Streak over: One of the few things that went wrong for the Cardinals on Sunday was Jay Feely’s blocked field goal. It happened late in the first quarter when Sergio Brown got his hands on the 28-yard attempt. The block snapped a streak of 17 straight field goals for Feely from Weeks 2-10. It was the fourth-longest streak in franchise history.